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Camp Defiance, Big Sewell, Virginia,

September 25, 1861—5.5 o’clock

General R. E. Lee:


General: By your aide (under the approach and fire of the enemy, at a stand, made under my orders, where the struggle will be severe, whatever be the result) I received the within order from the acting Secretary of War. It is imperative, requiring “the least delay,” but it could not have foreseen these circumstances—the most extremely embarrassing to me. I come to you for counsel, and will abide by it, because I have been under your eye, and you are competent to judge my act and its motive, whatever it may be. I desire to delay my report in person until after the fate of this battle. Dare I do so? On the other hand, can I, in honor, leave you at this moment, though the disobedience of the order may subject me to severest penalties? Will you please advise and instruct me?

I am, with the highest respect and esteem, your obedient servant,

Henry A. Wise,




[No date]

General: I will briefly state, in answer to your inquiry, appreciating, as I do, the reluctance and embarrassment you feel at leaving your Legion at this time, what I should feel compelled to do, as a military man, under like circumstances. That is, to obey the President’s order. The enemy is in our presence and testing the strength of our position. What may be the result, whether he will determine to attack or whether we may retire, cannot now be foreseen. I can conceive the desire your command would have for your presence, yet they will also do justice to your position.

With highest esteem, your obedient servant,

R E Lee,

General, Commanding



Source: The War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 5, p. 879

Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2018 November 12